Official Version of Hormuz 'Naval Incident' Starts to Unravel
There is a state in the region with a record of faking such situations in order to trick the US into war - but it isn't Iran ... "The Pentagon has said that it recorded the film and the sound separately, and then stitched them together"
Unless the media starts to seriously acknowledge Israel and America's desperate attempts to start a war with Iran, there can be no real understanding of these events amongst much of the public.
Doubts grow over Iranian boat threats
· Pentagon climbdown over 'you will explode' video
· Mystery remains over where voice came from
Ed Pilkington New York
Friday January 11, 2008
Doubts intensified last night over the nature of an alleged aggressive confrontation by Iranian patrol boats and American warships in the Persian Gulf on Sunday, after Pentagon officials admitted that they could not confirm that a threat to blow up the US ships had been made directly by the Iranian crews involved in the incident.
Several news sources reported that senior navy officials had conceded that the voice threatening to blow up the US warships in a matter of minutes could have come from another ship in the region, or even from shore.
The concession came on the day that a formal American complaint was lodged with Iran over the incident, and just 24 hours after President George Bush, on tour in the Middle East where he will be discussing policy towards Iran, warned Tehran to desist from such aggression and said any repetition would lead to "serious consequences".
The Pentagon alleges that the confrontation lasted about 20 minutes and took place in the Strait of Hormuz, where the US ships were in international waters. Five Iranian speedboats "swarmed" around three massive US warships and came within a threatening 200 metres, prompting US personnel to be put on alert.
The US navy has said that its gunners came within seconds of firing on the speedboats.
(This has since been called into dispute as well.)
On Tuesday, the US administration released video footage that it said showed the Iranian speedboats harassing the American vessels. A voice in English with a strong accent was heard to say: "I am coming at you - you will explode in a couple of minutes."
Yesterday the Iranians put out their own four-minute video that showed an Iranian patrol officer in a small boat communicating with one of the US ships. "Coalition warship number 73, this is an Iranian navy patrol boat," the Iranian said. An American naval officer replied: "This is coalition warship number 73 operating in international waters."
The voice of the Iranian sailor in Tehran's footage was different to the deeper and more menacing voice, threatening to blow up the warships in the US version.
Nor was there any sign of aggressive behaviour by the Iranian patrol boats.
The Strait of Hormuz is a particularly sensitive stretch of water, both economically as a key shipping route for oil from the Gulf, and militarily. The location, together with memories of the arrest of 15 British sailors by the Iranians last year and their detention for two weeks, is likely to have heightened nerves on both sides.
(The 'sailors' in that instance appear to have been heading for Iran, where they are currently partaking in an illegal, covert war inside Iran, which has been going on since at least 2004.)
But the mystery remains of where the voice that apparently threatened to bomb the US ships came from. The Pentagon has said that it recorded the film and the sound separately, and then stitched them together - a dubious piece of editing even before it became known that the source of the voice could not, with certainty, be linked to the Iranian patrol boats.
A post on the New York Times news blog yesterday from a former naval officer with experience of these waters said that the radio frequency used in the Strait of Hormuz was regularly polluted with interfering chatter, somewhat like CB radio. "My first thought was that the 'explode' comment might not have come from one of the Iranian craft, but some loser monitoring the events at a shore facility."
Despite growing doubts about what happened, the Bush administration continued to stand by claims of Iranian hostility. The defence secretary, Robert Gates, said the concern came from the "fact that there were five of these boats and that they came as close as they did to our ships and behaved in a pretty aggressive manner".
(Which they, in reality, did not.)
Further attention will focus on Tehran from today when Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, begins a two-day visit for talks on Iran's nuclear programme.
January 11, 2008
Official Version of Naval Incident Starts to Unravel
by Gareth Porter
Despite the official and media portrayal of the incident in the Strait of Hormuz early Monday morning as a serious threat to US ships from Iranian speedboats that nearly resulted in a "battle at sea," new information over the past three days suggests that the incident did not involve such a threat and that no US commander was on the verge of firing at the Iranian boats.
The new information that appears to contradict the original version of the incident includes the revelation that US officials spliced the audio recording of an alleged Iranian threat onto to a videotape of the incident. That suggests that the threatening message may not have come in immediately after the initial warning to Iranian boats from a US warship, as it appears to do on the video.
Also unraveling the story is testimony from a former US naval officer that non-official chatter is common on the channel used to communicate with the Iranian boats and testimony from the commander of the US 5th fleet that the commanding officers of the US warships involved in the incident never felt the need to warn the Iranians of a possible use of force against them.
Further undermining the US version of the incident is a video released by Iran Thursday showing an Iranian naval officer on a small boat hailing one of three ships.
The Iranian commander is heard to say, "Coalition warship 73, this is Iranian navy patrol boat." He then requests the "side numbers" of the US warships. A voice with a US accent replies, "This is coalition warship 73. I am operating in international waters."
The dramatic version of the incident reported by US news media throughout Tuesday and Wednesday suggested that Iranian speedboats, apparently belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard navy, had made moves to attack three US warships entering the Strait and that the US commander had been on the verge of firing at them when they broke off.
Typical of the network coverage was a story by ABC's Jonathan Karl quoting a Pentagon official as saying the Iranian boats "were a heartbeat from being blown up."
Bush administration officials seized on the incident to advance the portrayal of Iran as a threat and to strike a more threatening stance toward Iran. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley declared Wednesday that the incident "almost involved an exchange of fire between our forces and Iranian forces." President George W. Bush declared during his Mideast trip Wednesday that there would be "serious consequences" if Iran attacked US ships and repeated his assertion that Iran is "a threat to world peace."
Central to the depiction of the incident as involving a threat to US warships is a mysterious pair of messages that the sailor who heard them onboard immediately interpreted as saying, "I am coming at you...," and "You will explode after a few minutes." But the voice in the audio clearly said "I am coming to you," and the second message was much less clear.
Furthermore, as the New York Times noted Thursday, the recording carries no ambient noise, such as the sounds of a motor, the sea or wind, which should have been audible if the broadcast had been made from one of the five small Iranian boats.
A veteran US naval officer who had served as a surface warfare officer aboard a US Navy destroyer in the Gulf sent a message to the New York Times on-line column "The Lede" Wednesday pointing out that in the Persian Gulf, the "bridge-to-bridge" radio channel used to communicate between ships "is like a bad CB radio" with many people using it for "hurling racial slurs" and "threats." The former officer wrote that his "first thought" was that the message "might not have even come from one of the Iranian craft."
Pentagon officials admitted to the Times that they could not rule out that the broadcast might have come from another source
The five Iran boats involved were hardly in a position to harm the three US warships. Although Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman described the Iranian boats as "highly maneuverable patrol craft" that were "visibly armed," he failed to note that these are tiny boats carrying only a two- or three-man crew and that they are normally armed only with machine guns that could do only surface damage to a US ship.
The only boat that was close enough to be visible to the US ships was unarmed, as an enlarged photo of the boat from the navy video clearly shows.
The US warships were not concerned about the possibility that the Iranian boats were armed with heavier weapons capable of doing serious damage. Asked by a reporter whether any of the vessels had anti-ship missiles or torpedoes, Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, Commander of the 5th Fleet, answered that none of them had either of those two weapons.
"I didn't get the sense from the reports I was receiving that there was a sense of being afraid of these five boats," said Cosgriff.
The edited Navy video shows a crewman issuing an initial warning to approaching boats, but the footage of the boats maneuvering provides no visual evidence of Iranian boats "making a run on US ships" as claimed by CBS news Wednesday in its report based on the new video.
Vice Adm. Cosgriff also failed to claim any run toward the US ships following the initial warning. Cosgriff suggested that the Iranian boat's maneuvers were "unduly provocative" only because of the "aggregate of their maneuvers, the radio call and the dropping of objects in the water."
He described the objects dropped by the Iranian boat as being "white, box-like objects that floated." That description indicates that the objects were clearly not mines, which would have been dark and would have sunk immediately. Cosgriff indicated that the ships merely "passed by them safely" without bothering to investigate whether they were explosives of some kind.
The apparent absence of concern on the part of the US ships' commanding officers about the floating objects suggests that they recognized that the Iranians were engaging in a symbolic gesture having to do with laying mines.
Cosgriff's answers to reporters' questions indicated that the story promoted earlier by Pentagon officials that one of the US ships came very close to firing at the Iranian boats seriously distorted what actually happened. When Cosgriff was asked whether the crew ever gave warning to the Iranian boats that they "could come under fire," he said the commanding officers "did not believe they needed to fire warning shots."
As for the report circulated by at least one Pentagon official to the media that one of the commanders was "close to firing," Cosgriff explained that "close to" meant that the commander was "working through a series of procedures." He added, "[I]n his mind, he might have been closing in on that point."
Despite Cosgriff's account, which contradicted earlier Pentagon portrayals of the incident as a confrontation, not a single news outlet modified its earlier characterization of the incident. After the Cosgriff briefing, Associated Press carried a story that said, " US forces were taking steps toward firing on the Iranians to defend themselves, said the US naval commander in the region. But the boats - believed to be from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's navy - turned and moved away, officials said."
That was quite different from what Cosgriff actually said.
In its story covering the Cosgriff briefing, Reuters cited "other Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity" as saying that "a US captain was in the process of ordering sailors to open fire when the Iranian boats moved away" - a story that Cosgriff had specifically denied.
US Navy threat may not have been Iranian
From correspondents in Dubai
January 11, 2008 08:35am
THE US navy says there is "no way to know" if a threat radioed to US warships in the Strait of Hormuz came from Iranian speedboats, casting doubt on the earlier US version of Sunday's confrontation.
"There is no way to know where this (radioed threat) exactly came from. It could have come from the shore... or another vessel in the area,'' Lieutenant John Gay of the US Navy Fifth Fleet in Bahrain said.
But he said "the Iranian fastboats were acting in a very provocative and aggressive manner'' towards the US warships in the strategic waterway at the time.
The Pentagon released a video and audiotape this week which it said confirmed US charges that Iranian speedboats swarmed around the US ships on Sunday and also radioed a threat to blow them up.
But overnight Iran released its own video to counter the charges, showing the crew of a speedboat contacting an American sailor via radio, asking him to identify the US vessels and state their purpose.
State-run Press-TV in Iran said the footage had been released by the Revolutionary Guards, the ideological force involved in the incident.
Lt Gay said the threat was made through an "open bridge to bridge circuit'' and it would be "very difficult to determine'' that it came from the Iranian speedboats.
But "when you put that (threat) in the context of the Iranian behaviour, it created an uncomfortable situation for the sailors out there,'' he said.
Another Fifth Fleet spokesperson said the navy believed there was a connection between the Iranians' aggressive behaviour and the threats.
After "a very routine transit in the Strait of Hormuz for about two hours,'' there was "a 20-minute period with very aggressive, unusual and unnecessary behaviour",' Commander Lydia Robertson said.
"This included five boats approaching the US ships rapidly, manoeuvring very aggressively, the ships receiving the threatening radio transmissions and just a couple of minutes later, having two of the boats drop objects in the water in front of one of our ships...
"We believe there is a connection between all of these activities,'' she said.
The purported confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the world's oil supplies pass, has further inflamed tensions between Iran and the United States which are locked in a standoff over Tehran's controversial nuclear drive.
(Actually, the tension has arisen from the US and Israel's desperate attempts to start a war against the country, a plot which precedes both Ahmadinejad and the program of energy production. This is simply the "Iraq has WMD" they're trying to use this time around. That "crisis" dissolved by the evidence, this appears to be their new "Gulf of Tonkin" strategy.)
US President George W. Bush, on a Middle East tour that will also take him to American allies in the Gulf, threatened Iran yesterday with "serious consequences'' if it attacked US warships.
(His visit, coincidentally, was made in order to seek support for a war against Iran.)
Speaking in Israel at the start of the tour partly aimed at rallying support against Iran, Mr Bush said "all options'' were on the table to protect US assets after Sunday's face-off.
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